Travel along the summits of the Jura Mountains, and you will be constantly hopping back and forth across the border. You’ll have one foot in France and the other in Switzerland! This inescapable idea of the border is ever-present in terms of geography, architecture, business (clock making), culture, history, gastronomy and customs (and therefore smugglers too). Whether on foot, horseback, bicycle, skis, in the car or even swimming, the Franco-Swiss border is always present.
In the Footsteps of Smugglers
Let’s take a brief tour of a few iconic places along our mountain border. We’ll begin in the Pays Horloger (watch-making country), just next to Charquemont with the Echelles de la mort (Ladders of Death) rope bridges. This is the Upper Doubs valley where the River Doubs forms the border with Switzerland. Close to Métabief and the Mont-d’Or, the Sentier des Bornes et de l’Histoire de la Frontière commune (Trail of Landmarks and the History of the Common Border), stretches to Les Fourgs and Sainte-Croix. This 23.5 km path makes for a lovely hike (with both a 12 km and 17 km version) across the top of the Haut-Doubs. This trail is lined with low stone walls and boundary markers as well as 11 themed display boards. The Route de l’Absinthe is also worth mentioning in this area; a trail connecting Pontarlier to the Val-de-Travers following in the footsteps of the mythical Green Fairy.
A Border for Everyone
Defensive structures rise above the stone walls like sentinels and punctuate the natural gaps in the Jura Mountains, keeping watch and controlling the precious flow of people and goods between Switzerland and France. Examples include the Château de Joux and the Fort l’Ecluse. On a more friendly note, just a short distance from Les Rousses lies La Cure and its famous border restaurant, Arbez. The kitchen is in Switzerland, the dining room is in France and the dishes and service come with Franco-Swiss wit! A perfect way for food-lovers to celebrate this closeness between France and Switzerland that runs along, straddles and sometimes crosses over the (border) boundary markers all along of the mountains. At any rate, it doesn’t matter whether you refer to the “border” or the “free zone.” Since medieval times, the Pays de Gex has aimed to take advantage of the geographical setting between Switzerland, Savoy and Franche-Comté.